Nearly Half of Students in NYC, the Nation's Largest Public School District, Signed Up for All-Remote Learning

Nearly half of all students in New York City, home to the nation's largest public school district, have elected to take all their classes online this year, according to the city's education department.

Officials with the New York City Department of Education (DOE), which manages the City School District, said that 42 percent of students are enrolled in all-remote learning ahead of the start of the school year. That amounts to approximately 422,200 students of the district's total enrollment of more than 1.1 million.

The number of students choosing to take their classes online has increased since August 28, when 366,600 students had already made their decision to attend school virtually, according to WNBC.

Newsweek contacted the DOE for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

A hybrid model featuring a mix of in-person and online learning is scheduled to resume across the city September 21, but many educators are pushing for city officials to reconsider, arguing that the district is not sufficiently prepared to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the nearly 17,000 DOE staff members who've been tested for COVID-19, 55 employees—45 of whom are teachers—have tested positive for the virus, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said during an event Monday. This amounts to a positivity rate of around 0.3 percent, he said.

The city's largest teachers' union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), is continuing to protest the scheduled reopening, arguing that the DOE's testing program is not sufficient and that students and teachers would be safer in completely virtual classrooms.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined other union leaders and educators Monday to attend "Not Until It's Safe," where they protested what they claimed to be unsafe conditions at some school buildings.

Mulgrew told reporters later that day that schools were not adequately prepared to reopen, and that the UFT could file a lawsuit against the city over the lack of transparency concerning testing and tracing programs, according to WNBC.

"It seems to be something the administration doesn't really want to talk about," Mulgrew said. "If I was grading a paper they submitted, they'd be getting an F. They need to do their homework."

Some of Mulgrew's other concerns include a lack of personal protective equipment, insufficient staffing numbers for the hybrid learning model and not enough cleaning materials.

"We are still having issues with supplies. Serious issues are arising when we get a reported case to when they report it; two to three day lags," Mulgrew said. "It's unacceptable; we're not going back to March."

But the city's percent positivity rate—meaning the number of people who test positive for COVID-19—has hovered below 2 percent for several months now. During the press conference Monday, de Blasio said he was confident schools could safely reopen as scheduled next week.

"What I've said to President Mulgrew is: Give us any situation that is not what it should be and we will address immediately," de Blasio told reporters. He also noted that the city would send an additional 2,000 educators to supplement current numbers.

Additionally, the city's Test and Trace Corps, its comprehensive testing and contact tracing program, has potentially prevented up to 15,000 new COVID-19 cases in New York City, de Blasio said in a press release Tuesday.

In response to criticism about testing last week, a spokesperson for de Blasio's office told WNBC that the city's "public hospital system has worked to make testing as fast and convenient for school-based staff across the city and we are seeing turnaround times within 48 hours for over 95 percent of tests."

"While we continue to navigate the realities of a pandemic, there will be positive cases. We are putting people's health above everything else by quickly identifying and isolating positive cases, which is a leading effort to prevent transmission," according to the statement.

DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza and de Blasio announced in a joint statement Monday the creation of the DOE's COVID Response Situation Room, a partnership between the DOE, Department of Health and Mental Health, and the Test and Trace Corps. The situation room will help create a "rapid response to positive COVID-19 cases in public schools," according to the statement.

NYC teacher sets up classroom
Chris Frank, a teacher at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 prepares his classroom for the 2020–2021 school year on September 8, in New York City. Most public school teachers and faculty returned today to prepare their classrooms for remote teaching as well as for students who will be coming in for in-person teaching. Michael Loccisano/Getty

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced during a press conference September 8 that any school building within the state that reaches 100 positive coronavirus cases must immediately move to conducting online only classes for two weeks.

Every school in New York must also disclose its testing and case numbers, and school districts, local health departments and labs will each have to report numbers they receive back to the state. Officials with the state's health department will use the numbers to compile a "COVID-19 report card" for every school.

"The COVID-19 Report Card will give parents, faculty and students the most up-to-date information on the status of their school and their school district's testing and results," Cuomo said in a statement. "I urge our school communities to stay vigilant and be smart."